Obama touches on NSA reform in State of the Union address

The U.S. president also called for patent reform and for faster broadband in schools

U.S. President Barack Obama repeated his call to reform intelligence surveillance programs, saying U.S. intelligence agencies need the trust of people inside and outside the country, during his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Obama promised to work with the U.S. Congress to reform surveillance programs, presumably those at the U.S. National Security Agency exposed in the past eight months by leaker Edward Snowden. "The vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence here and aboard, that privacy of ordinary people is not being violated," Obama said.

The president's remarks on surveillance reform were brief, but seemed to track with his call last week to reform NSA programs.

Obama also addressed a handful of other issues related to the tech industry. He called for patent reform, saying Congress needs to allow U.S. businesses to innovate instead of facing "costly and needless" patent lawsuits. Many lawmakers have pushed for legislation that would make it more difficult for so-called patent-assertion entities, firms that have patent lawsuits as their primary business models, to sue other businesses.

Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of trade group The Internet Association, applauded Obama's call for patent reform. "The days of patent trolls ... terrorizing innovative and hard-working businesses are numbered," he said by email. "American businesses large and small are cheering the president's call tonight. Abuse of the broken patent system by patent trolls hurt main street businesses, as well as the Internet industry."

Obama also called on Congress to pass immigration reform. Many large technology companies have called for more high-skill immigration visas, but Obama's remarks focused largely on illegal immigration issues.

Obama also praised the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Apple, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon Communications for pushing for higher speeds of broadband in the nation's schools. The companies will help to connect more than 15,000 schools to faster broadband within two years, he said.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency's E-Rate program bring better broadband to schools.

"Harnessing the power of digital technology is central to improving our education system and our global competitiveness," he said in a statement. "In the Internet age, every student in America should have access to state-of-the-art educational tools, which are increasingly interactive, individualized and bandwidth-intensive."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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